It is a lot more fun working with farmers when they feel they have a chance to make a profit going into the year. We recently attended the Rice Outlook Conference in Orlando. I love the meeting because I get to see a lot of farmers early in the year and I do not have any real responsibilities. I can just go and be like everyone else.

If you have never attended, I would encourage you to try it. Most people bring their families, and I never see anyone there who does not appear to be having fun.

Farmer mood at the recent conference was upbeat and most of the presentations regarding rice prices were optimistic. The optimism was tempered somewhat by forecasts of higher input costs.

With the increase in wheat acres and the optimistic outlook in corn and soybeans, rice will have to buy acres. Hopefully this will happen and our acres will be stable.

While you have to grow what is most profitable for you, I just like rice — always have. Most true rice farmers also have a love for the crop, but it must be profitable.

Hopefully, the LibertyLink contamination issue is behind us for the most part. It was interesting during the presentation on the status of this issue at the conference, several commented on the need for biotechnology to move forward. This was a change from last year.

While the industry did what it had to do to purge the system of the contamination issue, I believe a bigger challenge is to find ways to move technology forward. It cannot move forward without customer acceptance.

It will obviously be a slow process, but somehow some new technology development (including GMO) must begin to take place. Hopefully this new year will see more optimism in this area.

The grower meeting season is here. I encourage you to begin the new year by attending as many as possible. In education as in technology — if we are not going forward we are going backward.

The part of my university job I miss most is speaking at grower meetings. Weed control technology was moving forward so quickly most of my career I always had new stuff to talk about. That is why it concerns me to see technology development at an apparent standstill now.

There will be new ideas to pick up at the meetings though. Heck, I have to beat the bushes now in an effort to stay current.

The Conservations Systems Cotton and Rice Conference is back in Tunica, Miss., this month. It is a great meeting for getting the latest information — a lot of it presented by farmers. I hope to see you there.

My challenge for the new year is to not get complacent about drift control and drift issues. Last year was much better than the previous couple of years. Everyone involved is to be commended.

However, after I had a relatively easy early growing season, I had a flurry of late season drift calls. I am concerned that a year of adverse weather conditions could put us right back where we were with glyphosate drift. A lot of effort was put forth by the Glyphosate Task Force last winter.

I generally do not like regulations. However, I was disappointed to see the recommendations from the Task Force on education watered down to basically lip service. I would challenge the powers that be to put in place a well-organized and well-funded effort on drift control education.

A lot of people do not realize the number of calls that I and my university counterparts get all winter from farmers and others still trying to resolve drift issues that occurred the past season. While overall we did better last year, drift is a huge issue on an individual farmer basis.

e-mail: ford@weedconsultants.com